VANCOUVER — Lucas Cavallini was filled with joy when he entered his home in Vancouver earlier this week and finally saw his wife and three kids in person.
His job as the Whitecaps' top striker had kept him away for several weeks, and though the reunion with his family was brief, it was special.
"When I walk through that door, it’s like lifting up the trophy, you know what I mean?" Cavallini said on a video call. "But I want that same feeling here with the club."
With just four games left on the Major League Soccer regular-season schedule, the 'Caps (7-12-0) are focused on making sure their difficult year ends on a positive note.
Vancouver currently holds the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference, but the final games are all must wins if the team is going to secure its spot in the post-season, Cavallini said.
"All this time away from home, all these sacrifices that we’re making, we have to make the best of it. I don’t want to go home with empty hands," he said.
"At the end of the day, we’ve got to make it worth something."
The final stretch will kick off Saturday when the 'Caps host the San Jose Earthquakes (6-7-6) at their temporary home in Portland, Ore.
The two clubs last met on Oct. 7 when some costly errors saw Vancouver concede a goal and go down a man early in the second half. The Earthquakes eventually handed an undermanned Whitecaps squad a 3-0 loss.
A much different result is well within the 'Caps grasp this time out, Cavallini said.
"If we play the game that we know how to play, we can beat this team. And not even by a close score, by a big score," said the Canadian forward, who sat out the previous matchup on a suspension. "But that depends on us."
The Whitecaps know that the Quakes play an unusual man marking system that creates one-on-one situations, said coach Marc Dos Santos.
Vancouver can't be passive on defence and needs to press hard in the right moments, he added.
"Against (San Jose), the game becomes kind of chaotic," Dos Santos said. "And you need to make sure you’re ready to respond to that. And players are ready to respond to that."
The Quakes head into Saturday's game undefeated in five of their last six outings, and sitting one spot above the Whitecaps in the table with a three-point lead.
The 'Caps are coming off a tough 1-0 loss to the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday, but have had time this week to rest both physically and mentally.
"It always gives us the ability to recharge," Dos Santos said of the break. "It gives us a little bit more strength, I’m sure."
The club will need to be both physically and mentally strong through the final stretch, but Dos Santos said his group is uniquely motivated.
After spending much of the year away from their loved ones due to COVID-19 border restrictions, the players and staff are focused on making the playoffs.
"The amount of sacrifices that everybody has put in brings us to think that this only makes sense if we make it count. It only makes sense if we make something big out of this," Dos Santos said. "We hope we’re going to be able to achieve something. That’s our objective."
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-7-6) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (7-12-0)
Saturday, Providence Park
MISSING MILINKOVIC: Whitecaps midfielder David Milinkovic has not been medically cleared to play on Saturday. A source with knowledge of the situation says he has a non-COVID illness and did not travel to Portland.
TOPS AND BOTTOMS: Vancouver has the most losses of any MLS team this season and is tied for the second-most wins in the Western Conference. The 'Caps are also the only team in the league to not have a single draw this year.
OCTOBER OFFENCE: San Jose's Chris Wondowlowski has scored 24 goals in the month of October across his 16-season career. No other player in MLS history has more than 14 career goals in October.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.